Thursday, March 16, 2006

People Vote With Their Feet

Today's Indy Star published an interesting article by Bill Ruthhart this morning. It should serve as a lesson for Marion County's elected officials, and a cautionary tale for Hamilton County's. From Ruthhart's article:
Some of the suburban county's growth is at the expense of Marion County, where the population drain is evident in the census estimates.

From 2000 to 2005, Hamilton County's population increased 32 percent, making it the 18th fastest-growing in the nation. Hendricks was the only other Indiana county to crack the Top 100, ranking as the 75th fastest-growing county with a 22 percent increase.

"An awful lot of this is coming from what we call suburban flight," said Vince Thompson, an economic research analyst with the Indiana Business Research Center in Bloomington.

While the newcomers moving into Central Indiana's suburban areas surged over the past five years, Marion County has seen people continue to move out. From 2000 to 2005, the number of U.S. residents moving out of Marion County outnumbered those moving in by more than 47,000.

What the article did not do is site anyone willing to make a political statement as to why the shift. As a former Marion County resident who chose to become a Hamilton County resident, I can shed some light: people vote with their feet.

The policies that carry the day in Marion County today drive wealth away. When living in Marion County, I could see that my tax burdens were only going to go up, and that my reward for staying would be a fight against urban decay. Consider:
  • IndyGo is more than 80% funded by tax dollars.
  • IPS continues to reach for ever more tax dollars without improving test scores or even security.
  • The streets and sidewalks (where you can find sidewalks) were crumbling.
  • The sewers lack the capacity to handle rainfalls of greater than a half-inch.
  • Etc. I mean, you could go on endlessly.
Also, where you have people who embrace public policies such as these, you will have people of means looking for the escape hatch.

Here's the biggest difference I found in attitude. I sent my son to IPS for exactly one half year. His teacher was excellent. When he goofed off, she called me on her cell phone to let me know. That was effort beyond the call of duty on her part, and I appreciated it.

I sat in her classroom one day and, being a product of private schooling that included a regiment of corporal punishment, I was appalled at the amount of time wasted just trying to get kids to sit down and settle down sufficient to hear the instruction. At a break I asked the teacher why it is as it is, understanding that the yardstick and paddle aren't available any more.

She told me that it didn't matter if she held the yardstick or if the parents did, as long as one of them held it. Didn't even have to use it, just hold it. She reported that a majority of parents would actually argue with her about the child's behavior, telling her it didn't happen the way she was reporting, and besides, it's her job to educate. It's the parent's job to get the kid to the bus stop.

Simply put, here in Hamilton County, a majority of parents expect their kids to produce in school and to succeed. That attitude makes all the difference.

At the core of it, the difference between Marion County and Hamilton County is the present population's relationship to the concept of self-responsibility.

That's why I am concerned for the future of Hamilton County. Just as so many people who reject self-responsibility embrace Marion County for that place's tolerance of it, Hamilton County is moving towards policies that will make it more hospitable to those who reject self-responsibility. The prime example of this is the embrace of public transportation. It is plain that the riders of mass transit do not foot the bill alone, but that others who never use it bear the lion's share of the cost.

Add to mass transit the approval of low-income housing apartments in Noblesville, the proliferation of Habitat for Humanity housing, also mainly in Noblesville, higher taxes and bigger government, and you have the makings for the reinvention of Marion County north of 96th Street.

Especially when you have children, you consider things like these. If you have the means, you go where you think it best for your children. There was simply no way I was going to be willing to stay in Indianapolis with a newborn in our future, so we moved.

People have been running away from the dominant policies of the dominant population centers for centuries. I come from immigrant stock on four sides- Irish, Polish, Hungarian, and Slovenian. Three of my four forebearers fled starvation. Two additionally fled political persecution. Today's immigrants continue to flee poverty, seeking opportunity. While the flight of wealth is a new American phenomenon, the impetous is the same- people just yearn to be free.

At some point, we need to reverse the dominant public policies in our core cities and return them to self-responsibility so that Americans will not continue this trend of leaving rotted cores for cities and consuming ever more land in developing new cities. You want to stop sprawl? Make the cities more attractive. Want to make the cities more attractive? Make people of means feel safe in cities- financially, in their person, esthetically, and especially, intellectually.

1 comment:

Todd S. said...

Woo-hoo! Go, Hamilton and Hendricks!